We got back late last night from a wonderful trip to Portugal (and prior to Portugal, London and Edinburgh where we visited family and friends). I kept a detailed account of what we did and what we ate, which I’ll include below. I’ll also post pictures from different meals and hopefully keep things organized.
For those who don’t want to read everything, here are the cliff notes:
• Portugal is wonderful – friendly people, great food everywhere, affordable.
• We loved Guimarães and eating in the historic center’s pleasant plazas.
• In Guimarães, we enjoyed Clarinha for pastries, Buxa, Taberna Trovador, Caju and Restaurant Virtudes.
• We enjoyed spending an evening in Braga, walking around the center, and especially the ice cream at Pappa’Lab (best ice cream we had in Portugal)
• Also liked exploring the historic center of Évora, and had a good meal at Lombardo
• Despite not loving big cities, we loved Lisbon. Amazing to walk around the different neighborhoods. The best pasteis de nata were generally whichever ones we were eating!
• Food highlights in Lisbon were Honest Greens and Cova Funda (and all the pasteis de nata)
• We were disappointed with Bomjardim, perhaps because expectations were so high, or perhaps because it’s gone downhill (or both?)
• Traveling with a toddler in Portugal was great – people were super friendly and welcoming of him, and with the exception of small cafes, everywhere we ate had high chairs.
• Felt safe and had no issues at all traveling as a gay couple w/ a kid.
For those who want more details, keep reading!
Portugal Day 1 (Tuesday) - Arrival and Guimarães
We flew from Edinburgh into Porto Airport at about 1:15 PM, and everything went smoothly until we reached the Hertz rental car counter. There, the wait was nearly one hour, but it was unclear what really caused the delay. Once we finally got our car, we were on the road, and in Guimarães 40 minutes later. Driving in Portugal was generally very easy.
We checked into Villa Margaridi, east of the city center, and walked around the beautiful gardens. We also sampled some 10-year-old port in our little private garden before driving into the center of the town.
We parked in a garage just south of the city center (first two hours are free, after that it’s still quite cheap) and then walked around. We explored different plazas and small streets, and things were fairly quiet at 6 PM on a Tuesday, though several people were having drinks or coffees in the bars and cafes. Guimarães is lovely and exactly the type of town we were looking for, so thanks so much to Maribel for the original recommendation!
We eventually ended up back outside the city walls at Clarinha for a quick snack. We tried one torta de Guimarães and one douradinha de Guimarães, both filled with a sweet almond (or pumpkin?) filling (not sure of the exact ingredients). Even before she asked me what I wanted, the proprietor had already handed my TDC (Toddler Dining Companion) a free biscuit. Total cost was €4.10. See photos from inside the shop below.
Dinner was at 7:00 at Taberna Trovador, which I had booked ahead of time. At that time of day on a Tuesday, a reservation would not have been necessary, but it didn’t hurt to have it. The restaurant had a high chair for TDC and they were very patient with him, given that he was overtired and occasionally throwing pieces of food. We thoroughly enjoyed the bread basket and the couvert, which consisted of olives, pate and marinated beans. TDC suddenly decided he liked olives (he’s never been interested before, despite many attempts, so this was a nice surprise). So my husband (Adult Dining Companion, or ADC) and I spent some time helping de-pit those for him. All three of us liked the breads, especially the darker brown loaf.
We wanted to sample the vinho verde tinto here since it’s a local speciality, so they gave us a small tasting. It ended up not being to our liking so we ordered two glasses of the vinho verde branco which was delightful (and €2.80 per glass). We ordered the following, which was way too much food: Fried sardines, Alheira w/ greens, rice with beans (a huge portion, we took home the leftovers), bolinhos de bacalao, and an extra side of greens, plus two glasses of vinho verde and some water. Everything was great, especially the sardines. Total bill was 40 euros, which is quite the bargain given the quantity of food. They were friendly to TDC though he also took some breaks running around the plaza just outside the restaurant. A great start to Portugal. See photos below.
We had time to swing by the Intermarche before heading back to our villa, and we picked up some groceries for TDC and also two bottles of local vinho verde. In a blind taste test later in the evening, the €2 bottle beat out the €5 bottle. I was amazed how much wine the grocery store offered for under 7 euros. There must have been hundreds of choices in the €2 - €7 price range
Day 2 - Wednesday - Guimarães and Braga
In the morning we drove up to the park on the mountain above Guimarães and got some exercise and some very nice views. The park was filled with middle-school aged children (on a field trip? camping trip?). For the entire stay in Guimarães we saw this age group (age 10-14 roughly) of children everywhere, often seemingly unsupervised, but also generally well-behaved. We had some of the kids take some pictures of our family and they enjoyed practicing their English with TDC.
Lunch was back in town at a new-ish restaurant called Caju. It was very cute inside, with a lovely menu of brunch and lunch items. We had one menu del día (this day’s was vegan, including a lentil soup, a mushroom pasta made w/ cashew cream, juice and coffee). Also tried a delicious chicken salad (with many other ingredients) and a small (gluten free) pancake with coconut cream for TDC. TDC loved the pancake and also the soup, and we thought everything was great. Would highly recommend it for anyone looking for a lighter brunch/lunch. Proprietor was super friendly. Photos below.
After TDC’s nap, we decided to drive to Braga, which was about 25 minutes away. We parked easily at an underground lot just outside the town, and went exploring for a while.
We tried the gelato at Pappa’Lab, and it was GREAT. Mango and raspberry were both amazing, and chocolate was good too. TDC was seriously unhappy when the ice cream was gone. We walked all around the center of the town, which was lovely, and had an early dinner at Casa de Pasto das Carvalheiras. We ate outdoors and enjoyed a Polynesian-style ceviche made w/ coconut milk, some crispy smoked chicken spring rolls, some barley risotto with cheese and lemon, and grilled miso salmon. Everything was very nice, though in my opinion nothing was super special. ADC liked it a lot and TDC devoured the salmon. Photos below.
On the way out of town, we swung by Reí do Pao de Queijo to pick up some Brazilian snacks before heading home. Sampled the pao de queijo, coxihnha w/ cheese and chicken, and a coconut beijinho. All very good. I think this place is also new-ish, and the menu also had a wide variety of Brazilian juices.
Enjoyed the Brazilian snacks back at home later with our vinho verde.
Day 3 - Thursday - Guimarães
Spent the morning relaxing and going to the large city park to play on the playground and exercise. It was a hot day but it’s a great park. Then we went into the town center for pastries and coffee at Casa Costinhas. Tried another torta de Guimarães as well as a toucinho, with a similar filling but covered in powdered sugar. Both good but very sweet. Good coffee.
Then we walked around a bit more before lunch.
We chose to eat at Restaurante Virtudes at the outdoor tables for lunch. At Restaurante Virtudes, our waitress was very nice and helpful, serving our vegetable soup not-too-hot so TDC could eat right away (it was a pureed soup, and was delicious). The couvert/bread here was also really nice, with about 5 different selections of bread, plus olive oil, olives and a cream cheese of sorts. Shrimp with garlic and orange zest were delicious, served head-on. We ordered more bread to dip in the delicious sauce. Grilled octopus main dish was tender and nicely flavored, served with potato. Simple but good. To drink, I tried a peach-ginger “Why Not” soda, which is similar to German Bionade, but made in Portugal. Not very sweet, very refreshing.
In the afternoon we napped, hung out by the pool and gardens at our villa, and then I ventured out to purchase pasteis de nata for another taste test. Tried them at both Clarinha and at Espaço das Natas. Clarinha was the clear winner — tender pastry, with a nice eggy filling. We also tried a pasteis with a coconut center (more solid, not as custard-like) and this was just OK. The pasteis de nata from Espaço das Natas had a more vanilla-pudding-like consistency and flavor, and a crispier flakier pastry. Certainly not bad, but not my preference. We also tried one from here that was the same but with chocolate sauce on top (the chocolate tasted just like the frosting on a Dunkin Donuts Boston Cream Donut).
For dinner, it was back into town to eat at Buxa, right in the center plazas. Lots of people around, even though we were eating an early dinner at 7:15. It was a festive feel. TDC was able to sit at the table but also take breaks to run around the plaza and play soccer with a local girl’s soccer team that was hanging out in the plaza too. I had a white wine sangria (too sweet), ADC had some port (good), and we had more alheira w/ greens (this version less salty than Trovador, and actually a bit better IMO), punheta de bacalhau c/ broa (bacalao salad w/ onions, served cold. I did not like this at all but ADC did), a salad, caldo verde (quite good) and a filet mignon served with delicious mushrooms and fried potatoes (all three very good). Also had a piece of pie/tart for dessert with a similar almond filling to what’s in torta de Guimarães. The dessert was sweet but good. It wasn’t the most special food, but the location in the plaza was very enjoyable and the food was good. Photos below.
Day 4 - Friday - Coimbra and Évora
We had breakfast at our villa in Guimarães and then departed around 10:15 AM for our big day of driving! We initially aimed to get all the way to Tomar for lunch, but the day was super hot and we had a late start, so we ended up deciding en route to drive into Coimbra. We were able to locate an underground parking garage just north of a main pedestrian area, and this ended up working quite well for us. We walked into the town and it was bustling and still not super hot. We chose Cafe Central somewhat randomly and sat outside on the main pedestrian street. We ordered a margarita pizza (good crust, just OK for sauce/cheese), roast chicken with French fries (actually really excellent), and some bread. An enjoyable meal, and it was fun to briefly check out Coimbra. Had some really nice views of the city driving in/out as well.
We continued driving south after lunch on the A13, which felt brand new (even though I’m reading it’s about 10 years old), and it was a beautiful drive down to the A23. From here we drove east a bit, then south toward Evora via the N2. We arrived in Montargil a bit before 4 pm, and it was 37 degrees out, so we decided to stop and swim in the big reservoir. Water felt great and rejuvenated us, and then it was one more hour drive down to Évora. We arrived at Albergaría do Calvario, parked and checked in, then around 7 pm headed out to explore. We walked into the main plaza (it was still extremely hot), and encountered the tail end of the first annual Evora Pride March, which was pretty cool to see. Eventually we came back to eat at Lombardo, a relatively new place fairly close to the hotel. Bread and olives with olive oil and butter were tasty, tuna carpaccio was excellent (though a bit salty), local black pig chorizo was great (TDC loved it), and then a main of duck breast with sautéed vegetables (zucchini, squash, carrot) and a mushroom purée was great (TDC also loved the zucchini and the duck). I also ordered some roasted potatoes that were in a sauce with garlic and onions. Very good. Overall, a nice place, though we were there on the early side. Tried two different wines (house white and red, both good). This was probably our “fanciest” meal of the trip, even though it wasn’t super fancy. Total price was around €65.
For dessert we headed back into the main area again to try Fabrica dos Gelados. Had passion fruit sorbet and also orange w/ chocolate sorbet. Both good, but not as amazing as what we had in Braga.
Day 5 - Saturday - Évora and Monsaraz
Had a delightful breakfast at the hotel — really good spread, plus eggs to order and good coffee. TDC loved the different fruit options, plus one of the waitstaff made friends with him and brought him a bowl of fresh strawberries, then took him back to the kitchen with her! Maribel wasn’t kidding about people loving toddlers in Portugal.
Then we drove to Monsaraz, about a 50 minute drive through farmland, and explored the castle in the heat. After taking pictures of the great views, we drove down to the beach! Praia Fluvial de Monsaraz was quite busy, but it was spacious enough to not feel crowded at all. Great sandy beach with calm and refreshing water, perfect for all three of us. The reservoir is the largest in Western Europe, and we could see Spain across the water. After swimming for a while, we ate lunch at the snack bar overlooking the beach. The view was great. The food was not. Ordered a hamburger, which was served on a moldy bun! We sent it back and got a new burger on a new fresher bun, but it was still terrible. Also had a smoked salmon salad which was a bit better, and then also some shrimp al ajillo which was actually pretty good. TDC ate fries and shrimp. I think next time I’d pack my own lunch to bring to this beach - this would have been much nicer.
After driving back to Evora and some nice nap time, we ventured out and checked out the Capela dos Ossos and the accompanying museum. Pretty cool. Then walked up hill the Roman ruins, making a stop to buy another Why Not soda (raspberry and thyme) at a small Asian market that also had a small boba shop inside! The line for boba was long so I skipped it, but the store had a decent amount of Asian ingredients (e.g. Thai curry paste, fish sauce, oyster sauce, mochi).
Back at our hotel, we did a wine tasting with some small tapas, and sampled four different wines from Alentejo. Really nice service from the folks at the hotel. This hotel was great overall, so thanks to those who suggested it!
Then out for dinner again, and we showed up without reservations to the street near the plaza lined with restaurants. We went to a gluten free restaurant with a nice outdoor table, O Grão Da Mesma Mó. Had a very nice gazpacho, a good shrimp and pineapple salad, tried the gluten-free bread (not bad!), and a very mediocre steak dish topped with a sauce with fries and small salad. Had a nice fresh OJ too. Probably wouldn’t recommend this place unless you’re with someone who needs to eat gluten free. I didn’t take any pictures.
We wanted to get into Tua Madre, but they were fully booked well in advance. FWIW, even though it’s an Italian menu, it definitely seems more Italian-Portuguese fusion.
For dessert we tried Crema di Latte by Artisani for more gelato — despite the name, they had several sorbet flavors. I tasted the guava, but then we chose coconut and passion fruit. The passion fruit in particular was very good, and better than the one from the night before. Then we walked home along the outside of the city wall as a cool breeze finally came in to relieve us from the heat wave.
Day 6 - Sunday - Lisbon
Had another lovely breakfast in Evora before packing up the car to drive to Lisbon. We stopped to fill up gas and use bathrooms at one of the highway rest areas, and were impressed by the cleanliness and the helpfulness of staff. In Portugal you can still pump gas first, and then pay with a credit card. I was also impressed that the same staff who helped me pay for my gas also are ready to make espresso and sell decent looking pasteis de nata — all at the rest area!
We drove across the bridge into Lisbon and immediately returned our car to the Hertz that is just north of Principe Real. Then got an Uber to take us closer to Baixa, where we were able to check in 2.5 hours early to Grape Harbor Apartments. Our apartment was a 1-bedroom with a kitchenette, with breakfast items provided (and fresh bread delivered daily). Really nice and very central location. After checking in and dropping off our bags, we ventured off toward lunch. ADC decided it was time for some non-Portuguese food, so we went to Boa Bao in Chiado. The restaurant was busy and had a fun vibe, and we had some decent bao (one with shrimp, one with duck), some good noodles (on the sweet side), some kimchi, and some Vietnamese goi cuon (not bad, but not great). Tried a fruity mocktail (good) and an iced tea (meh). Service was very friendly and TDC had a good time with the upbeat music. Even though it wasn’t Portuguese food, eating here gave us a sense of this neighborhood on a Sunday. Photos below.
On the way home we swung by Manteigaria to sample their pasteis de nata. This pastry was still hot from the oven, which made the comparison to others a bit unfair I think. I thought it was amazing. ADC thought there was too much cinnamon. TDC seems to love all pasteis de nata equally so his opinion doesn’t count yet.
After lunch we went back to the apartment for nap time, and around 5 pm ventured off again. We walked a big loop through Bairro Alto, Principe Real, and then down to Time Out Market. First stop on our walk was Alcoa, where we tried their pasteis de nata. I thought it was not quite as good as Manteigaria, but ADC liked it better because there wasn’t so much cinnamon. After exploring narrow streets and a playground, and passing through some lovely parks, we ended up at Nannarella. Tried the dark chocolate and raspberry sorbet. Both excellent, though the raspberry still not as good as the one we tried in Braga. We ate the ice cream in yet another park just downhill, which is where many others were also eating ice cream. Then eventually walked down to Time Out Market.
We arrived at Time Out Market around 7 pm, and the inside was mobbed. There were no open seats and everything was packed. It was too noisy and overwhelming, but luckily we were easily able to get an outdoor table at Azul, on the edge of the market. We ordered razor clams (very good), shrimp with garlic (good), and a daily fish (sea bass) with potatoes and broccoli (totally fine, but a bit bland). Also some buttered bread - good for dipping in the sauces. A nice light meal.
After dinner, we wanted a bit more, so we went back into the market (which felt less overwhelming now that we weren’t as hungry) and tried the croquetas from Croqueteria. My favorite was the goat cheese and caramelized onion. We also had bacalau, traditional meat, and cuttlefish with cuttlefish ink. Despite the bold color, the cuttlefish one had the least bold flavor. The mayo they give you is very good and garlicky.
Day 7 - Monday - Lisbon
We started our final day in Portugal with breakfast at our hotel - they delivered two different types of rolls, some croissants (very good), and some pasteis de nata. Not sure which bakery they came from, I should ask, because the croissants were great. We also were provided yogurt, eggs, jam, butter, milk and coffee, though I also picked up some coffee to go from Green Cafe (two americanos, one with oat milk).
After breakfast we ventured off to explore Alfama. This was our only time on the trip using the baby Bjorn carrier (as opposed to the stroller), and we were very glad to not deal with strollers on the hills and bumps. That said, we took two elevators from Baixa to get up fairly high, so it wouldn’t have been terrible with a stroller. Highlights included some espresso and lemonade at the Miradouro Santa Luzia, and a visit to the small playground near the castle where TDC got to climb on a slide and also watch the local wild peacocks roaming around. The playground was practically empty and had a lovely view, despite the fact that about 300 meters away, hundreds of tourists were waiting in line for the castle.
We kept roaming around, and wound our way downhill again to arrive at Bomjardim at 12:00, right when they opened. We were amongst the first people seated, though it filled up quite quickly. I’m sorry to say that our experience was maybe the most disappointing we had in Portugal (with the possible of the moldy hamburger bun in Monsaraz). The half chicken was on the skimpy side (see picture – that was the full 1/2 chicken serving) and was a tad overcooked and very salty. Croquetas de bacalao, served with rice and salad, were decent. Another side salad was also salty but fine. Overall, not a lot of food, and the chicken was really not that special (maybe there was too much build up?). As we were paying, our waiter told us that “In Portugal, the gratuity is not included,” which was the first and only time the entire trip that a server even mentioned tipping. And as far as service goes, we had had better service nearly everywhere else we’d been. We did indeed leave a tip, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth (which already was overly salty from the chicken).
Still feeling hungry, we decided to walk up to Chiado to check out Honest Greens. I pictured it being a small place, but it was big and quite beautiful, with a delicious looking menu. We had a ginger-goat cheese salad, plus an order of sweet potato fries and an agua fresca (unlimited refills for 2.50, with four different flavors, all pleasantly non-sweet). I thought the salad was great, with loads of greens and a great dressing, plus many toppings (dried fruit, poached pear, roasted sweet potatoes, goat cheese, string beans, walnuts) and the sweet potato fries came with a delicious beet-based ketchup. The menu is very large, and if I lived in Lisbon I would eat here all the time. I’m so glad foodnut mentioned this place, since we would have never found it or chosen it on our own, but it was great for us. I also wish a place like this existed in the USA — closest is Mixt or Sweetgreen, but those are probably double the price and half the quality/variety.
The juxtaposition of Bomjardim and Honest Greens was interesting to me – the former felt old and tired, the latter felt new and fresh. I should have tried the piri piri chicken at Honest Greens (which they have!) to make that comparison.
In the late afternoon, after a nap, we headed out for our final adventure. We walked down to the Cais de Sodré station and purchased a round-trip fare to Belem. We boarded a train but didn’t pay attention to the timetable, because due to rush hour, we got on a train that skipped our stop. We got off after Belem, and had to backtrack one stop, which wasn’t really that bad. We walked around Belem for a bit, checking out the various gardens. Then we tried the famous pasteis de nata (luckily almost no queue). ADC proclaimed it the best of all, but I think I still like Manteigaria best. After our snack, we walked around Belem some more, went down to the tower along the water for a great view of the bridge (definitely had some SF vibes). Then we caught a train back to Cais de Sodré, where we changed for the metro to Intendente and walked to Cova Funda for dinner. Arrived at 7 PM.
I am pleased to report that Cova Funda made for a fabulous final dinner in Portugal. The type of high chairs they have only work on their indoor tables, so we couldn’t eat outside, but it was good inside too, and the service was very friendly and helpful. A bread basket with fresh sliced bread (very good), some aioli and olives, a plate of cheese, and three croquetas de bacalao arrived at the table immediately, and we decided to keep everything except the cheese. All were very good, and the croquetas de bacalao were perhaps the best we tried all week. I ordered alheira one last time - this version seemed to be breaded and fried a bit more than others, and came with fries, rice and a fried egg on top. A ton of food for €7.50. Meanwhile, ADC ordered the 1/2 portion of grilled octopus. When the plate came out, it inspired “WOWS” from both us, and also the two women seated near us! The octopus came in a garlicky sauce with practically a full head of broccoli and several roasted potatoes. The octopus was grilled nicely and was very tender, and TDC loved the broccoli (he also loved the fries and the bread). We also had one glass of the house white wine (really nice), one sparkling water and one still water. We had more food than we could finish, and the total bill was €36. Thanks to folks who recommended this place, especially PedroPero who recommended it again.
After dinner, we walked back to Baixa/Chiado area and got ice cream at Gelados Santini. We ordered cherry and honey dew melon, and we were a bit underwhelmed by both. The melon almost tasted like artificial melon flavor. Perhaps these weren’t the best flavors to order. It definitely wasn’t bad, and TDC loved it. Then I had one final pasteis de nata at Manteigaria before heading home!
Day 8 - Tuesday - Travel Home
We had one last breakfast at our hotel in Lisbon, plus coffees from Green Cafe, and then packed up. We left our hotel at 9:10 AM, walked to Praça da Figueira and got an Uber to the airport. Due to traffic getting into the airport, we arrived at our check-in around 9:50. Check-in with Air Canada took almost 50 minutes, then we had to go through customs and security, and then walk quite a ways to our gate. By the time we reached our gate it was 11:25, and we had only 25 minutes before boarding our 12:50 flight. Moral of the story: get to Lisbon airport early! We arrived at the airport 3 hours ahead of our flight, and we only had 25 minutes to buy food/use bathroom.
The trip home, door to door (Lisbon to Oakland, CA) was 22 hours and 30 minutes, thanks to a 1.5 hour delay on our Toronto-SFO flight. It was a really really long travel day, but we had a great trip!!!
Thanks to everyone who actually read all this, and to everyone who helped come up with ideas for the trip. Special shout out to Maribel who was instrumental in making this trip a success.